When William James retired from Harvard in 1907, after 35 years on the school’s faculty, it felt like the beginning of a new life. As Professor James, he once confessed to his brother, Henry, “I always felt myself a sham, with its chief duties of being a walking encyclopedia of erudition. I am now at liberty to be a reality.” Perhaps no retirement has ever begun more productively than James’s. The New York Times ran a long article about his new book, Pragmatism, and reported that his ideas were taking the public square by storm. “When he appears on the lecture platform, breathlessly listening crowds greet him as the messenger of some new gospel. Business men are caught disputing over their lunches about the correct meaning of the word employed to designate the new faith.” Pragmatism went through several printings in its first year and helped set the agenda for James’s brief retirement. He spent much of his time refining aspects of his philosophy and defending it from critics, until he succumbed to a chronic heart condition in 1910, at the age of ­68.

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